Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats

This is a painting I finished this week. IMG_0089a Today is the 20th anniversary of the death of a very dear, beautiful person. She took a boat out to sea and didn’t come back. At some point, almost certainly by deliberate act, she went over the side of the boat. She didn’t leave a note. But she had spoken of ending her life several times before. Over time, I have come to think that the ambiguity of her death may have been deliberate on her part. Some time before something truly awful happened to her. She was a totally random victim of something evil. I have mentioned her before on this blog. But I have only once told the whole story of what happened to her. That was to a counsellor a few months ago. It is unlikely that I will ever tell the whole story again. It is too awful and people don’t need to hear it. Above all, out of respect to my friend it doesn’t need to be told.

I was the first person to be with her after this awful thing happened. I spent a few days and nights with her, reliving the horror with her and doing what I could for her. I am still haunted by feelings that I didn’t do enough or do what was needed. However much people tell me I don’t need to feel that, it is always there. I have been told that I have vicarious trauma because of what happened during those days. I felt a lot of pain and horror at that time. I would feel it a hundred times over if it would bring her back. But what happened to her made her very ill and eventually destroyed her. I have carried a lot of guilt over the years. The guilt that I feel that I didn’t do enough in the immediate aftermath. A kind of survivor guilt, as well, that is hard to explain. A strange kind of guilt that I have trauma about something that I wasn’t even the victim of. I also worry about the fact that, towards the end of her life, there was something I didn’t properly explain to her.

She was truly beautiful. She was physically very attractive but her beauty was much deeper and less definable than that. She was simply a beautiful person. She was kind, funny, hugely intelligent, vibrant, full of joy at the simple things in life. She was a loyal and very generous friend. She was a linquist. She spoke French like a native and that became her job. She lived a lot of her life in Paris. She loved Paris. And her friends loved Paris because of her. It was infectious. I didn’t go to Paris for many years after her death. This wasn’t a conscious decision. There may have been an unconscious block, I don’t know. But I knew Paris before I knew her. I went back recently with my OH. It is still the city she loved. But, perhaps more importantly, I was making new memories of the place with my OH. We had a great time.

I miss her often. I wish she was still here and that life wasn’t so unfair that she left us so early. So young and still so full of life. We were such great friends in a way I just can’t find words to adequately describe. People, including a counsellor, have asked if I was in love with her. I wouldn’t use that a description of our friendship. I think it brings a picture of romantic love. It was never that. We loved each other but only as friends. In fact, gender and all it’s associations was irrelevant to our friendship. Apart from one moment when she asked something. That is a moment I often wish I could turn the clock back to change.

She had a sister. A twin sister. Alike in many ways but also different in many ways. Two sides of the same coin. She also died fairly recently. My contact with her was more sporadic. But whilst she was alive I felt there was still some sort of living connection with my friend. When she died too I felt a huge sense of loss for the pair of them. Following the recent time when I went through the events of all those years ago with a counsellor, for the first time ever, I realised I have never actually grieved for my friend. There has been a kind of block. A block of not truly acknowledging she has gone because to do so would have meant acknowledging the full horror of her trauma. Now I have worked through some of that with a counsellor I am moving through that block; resolving to some degree the trauma. I know that grief is something that is going to follow. Belated grief but probably a very necessary process.

As I have said before on this blog, I find anniversaries very hard. Especially big anniversaries like this twenty years one. Making this painting was emotionally hard but something I needed to do. There were tears shed in the making of it. I also finished a portrait of her this week. Painted quite quickly and much easier, emotionally to do. IMG_0094a


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